Eight-try Connacht sweep past Zebre for much-needed URC win

Matthew Devine named player of the match after a two-try display at the Dexcom Stadium in Galway

URC: Connacht 54 Zebre 16

Connacht took the necessary step in their bid to make the URC play-offs with a comprehensive victory over visitors Zebre in Dexcom Stadium.

Not flash but convincing, the eight-try win was their biggest of the season, and with key front row player Finlay Bealham celebrating his 200th cap, Connacht maintained their push towards a top eight spot with just four fixtures remaining - with three away from home.

Connacht had led at the break by 21-11 - the early stalemate having been broken after 13 minutes when Zebre, in their first entry in the Connacht 22, delivered a drop goal from outhalf Geronimo Prisciantelli.

That lead was short-lived. Connacht produced their opening try from the restart with Bundee Aki and Sean O’Brien key carriers before scrumhalf Matthew Devine, in his first start, opted to take a quick tap from a penalty, spotted a gap and dove over for his first senior try.


However, the visitors were able to capitalise when Shane Jennings was unable to deal with a bouncing grubber kick, and with the Zebre pack delivering big carries, outhalf  Prisciantelli produced a perfect kick for right wing Jacopo Trulla to score an unconverted try.

It was not long before man of the match Devine added to his memorable senior debut. Aki was once again instrumental as Connacht broke out of defence, but the young scrumhalf spotted a gap from from inside his own half, evading three would-be tacklers to secure his second try, with Hanrahan adding the conversion.

The visitors enjoyed some territorial control, but both Aki and Dave Heffernan stymied another try effort before left wing Simone Gesi added three points from a penalty to keep his side in touch midway through the half. However, Connacht completed the opening half with a third try when Hanrahan spotted lock Niall Murray lurking on the left wing and floated a superb cross field kick for the 24-year-old to canter in  for a 21-11 halftime lead.

The fourth try and bonus point was added within minutes of the restart from a sweeping backline move, finished by centre Tom Farrell who profited by Andrew Smith’s strong carry through the cover defence, and the home side delivered a fifth from Sean O’Brien - Smith playing an influential part in the build-up. Although the Italians continued to play with heart, delivering a try after 66 minutes through replacement Enrico Lucchin, Connacht’s Bundee Aki and JJ Hanrahan also added tries before a penalty try made it number eight.

Yellow cards:  Zebre, Fettle Paea (6m); Danilo Fischetti (67).

Connacht: S Jennings; J Porch, T Farrell, B Aki, A Smith; JJ Hanrahan, M Devine; J Duggan, D Heffernan (capt), F Bealham; J Joyce, N Murray; S Hurley-Langton, C Oliver, S O’Brien.

Replacements: P Dooley for Duggan (48 mins), P Boyle for O’Brien (52), C Blade for Devine (55), S Illo for Bealham, T McElroy for Heffernan, O Dowling for Joyce (all 57), J Butler for Hurley-Langton (65), D Heffernan for McElroy (67).

Zebre Parma: Lorenzo Pani; Jacopo Trulla, Scott Gregory, Fetuli Paea, Simone Gesi; Geronimo Prisciantelli, Gonzalo Garcia; Muhamed Hasa, Giampietro Ribaldi, Juan Pitinari; Leonard Krumov, Andrea Zambonin; Guido Volpi, Davide Ruggeri, Giovanni Licata (capt).

Replacements: Danilo Fischetti for Casa (54 mins), R Genovese for Pitinari (65),  M Canali for Krumov and T Dominguez for Garcia (both 54), Iacopo Bianchi for Ruggeri (49), Thomas Dominguez for Garcia (both 54), Enrico Lucchin for Paea (60), M Has a for Licata (71),  F Smith for Prisiantelli (74), D Fischetti for Hasa (78).

Yellow cards: Paea (6 mins), Danilo Fischetti (67).

Referee: Aimee Barrett-Theron (SARU)